Posts

Niagara

‘Their roar is around me. I am on the brink of the great waters – and their anthem voice goes up amid the rainbow and the mist.’ Grenville Mellen, 1881 Niagara Falls is a group of three waterfalls at the southern end of Niagara Gorge, spanning the border between New York State and Ontario. The falls – American Falls, Horseshoe Falls and the small Bridal Veil Falls – formed 12,000 years ago, when water from Lake Erie carved a channel Read More

The Sixties

THE SIXTIES  ‘It was the time of my time. I will never have so much fun again, ever.’ Even back then Michael Caine knew ‘it was the good old days’. ‘What we decided was f*ck it, leave your baggage of class, colour and religion at the door…’ It was the best of times. For some. The ‘pill’ liberated women, Mary Quant and the mini skirt liberated legs, Vidal Sassoon liberated hair, the Mini liberated the road, the constrictions of girdles Read More

The Art of Rugby

P.G. Wodehouse admitted to knowing little about rugby except that ‘each side is allowed to put in a certain amount of assault and battery and do things to its fellow man which, if done elsewhere, would result in 14 days, coupled with some strong remarks from the Bench’ (Very Good, Jeeves, 1930). Rugby is of course a collision sport, and as the French scrum half, Pierre Berbizier, said – ‘if you can’t take a punch, you should play ping pong’.  Read More

Pirates!

‘Fifteen men on the Dead Man’s Chest / Drink and the devil had done for the rest…’  Treasure Island, R.L. Stevenson’s story (1883) of peglegs, parrots and buried gold has immortalised (and glamourised) the cutthroat world of piracy on the Spanish Main. Some things are just fiction, like ‘walking the plank’ – as Captain Hook (an Etonian gone wrong) did in Barrie’s Peter Pan (1904). Yet the camaraderie of these outcasts is true; they were a collective, a sort of Read More

Lichtenstein

ROY LICHTENSTEIN (1923-1997)  ‘The cliché gave my work a certain power. It was brave, risky. I try to organize its forms to make it monumental. The difference is often not great, but it is crucial.’ Lichtenstein, a New Yorker born to a wealthy family, blurred the distinction between commercial art and fine art. With Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg and Jasper Johns he became a leading figure in the Pop Art movement. Although initially trained by an American realist who spurned French Read More

Vermeer

VERMEER AND THE GOLDEN AGE OF DUTCH ART Bertrand Russell wrote: ‘It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of Holland in the 17th century, as the one country where there was freedom of speculation… Spinoza would hardly have been allowed to do his work in any other country.’ Alongside freedom to speculate, to philosophise, there was freedom to reinvent art, unencumbered by church or state. Realism, particularly in genre painting, flourished in the seven northern provinces of the Dutch Republic in Read More

Cézanne

PAUL CÉZANNE (1839-1906): Father of Modern Art ‘I point the way. Others will come after.’ The Post-Impressionist Cézanne was, according to Picasso, ‘the father of us all – my one and only master!’ Braque’s revolutionary Cubist painting Houses at l’Estaque (1908) owes everything to Cézanne. The critic who coined the term ‘Cubism’ was being rude when he wrote that Braque ‘reduced everything, places and figures and houses, to geometric schemes, to cubes.’ But it was essentially what Cézanne invented: the Read More

Mean Streets and Murder

FILM NOIR ‘I have done many pictures which I suppose are film noir. And I can see the roots of that in Citizen Kane… but I couldn’t define it for you, then or now.’ Robert Wise, director of noir classics like Born to Kill (1947) and The Set-Up (1949), was wary of a definition, perhaps because film noir encompasses many genres from private eye thrillers – like perhaps the first noir, Huston’s ‘depraved’ (LA Times) The Maltese Falcon, 1941 –  to erotic Read More

Hitchcock

ALFRED HITCHCOCK (1899-1980), Master of Suspense Hitchcock knew how to manipulate: ‘I enjoy playing the audience like a piano,’ he admitted. ‘There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it…’ He recognised that ‘everybody likes to be scared. Nothing has changed since Little Red Riding Hood faced the Big Bad Wolf.’ And he knew how to scare. Through anticipation, tension. And through the unexpected, as in Psycho (1960), perhaps his most original film. Rope (1948), made Read More

Sherlock Holmes

WHAT SORT OF MAN WAS HOLMES? SHERLOCK HOLMES (b. 1854), a consulting detective, first appeared in A Study in Scarlet (1887), for which its author received £25. Holmes’s fame spread through short stories in The Strand Magazine, beginning with A Scandal in Bohemia in 1891. The oeuvre continued until 1927, spanning four books and 56 short stories, most narrated by Holmes’s friend and biographer Dr John H Watson, who shared lodgings with him at 221B Baker Street in London, where Read More